As I sit in my garden in early April, after a long Vancouver winter, I am finally starting to see some flowers in front of me; species tulips as well as other early bulbs that have appeared and the spears of others plants thrusting out of the ground, and my eye is drawn to the two types of hellebore that I now grow. These plants have made their evergreen contribution to the garden throughout the winter but are now contributing their modest, but beautiful, flowers to the scene that is becoming more colourful as each week passes.

Hellebores come in a wide variety of flower colours and will stay in flower for up to three months, a valuable asset when combined with their evergreen habit. They are also ‘set and forget’ plants that can be left in situ for many years without division, minimizing labour, yet many can be divided if you want to increase your stock, particularly the orientalis hybrids. When I was first planting my garden I would haunt the nurseries in the fall and into the depths of winter looking for bargains and bought a few dozen Hellebore orientalis (Helleborus x Hybridus) over time to fill the empty spaces and to mark places that would eventually be taken by other plants. When the replacements went in I would pass the hellebores on to other gardeners.

At present I am growing a few plants of Helleborus sternii and three orientalis, deep purple ones that I kept for the final composition, and cannot imagine the garden without at least a few of these stalwart performers. The sternii were picked up at a garden club sale, seedlings that had appeared in a club member’s garden and were grown on for sale. Hellebores are promiscuous (a horticultural term, I assure you) so try to grow a few different species as they will cross with each other and sometimes produce interesting plants that are intermediate between the two parents – you might even end up with a valuable clone. My garden has traditionally been mulched in the fall so I have had no seedlings; as my mulches grow thinner over time seedlings should start to appear.

A fellow club member tells me that her Helleborus foetidus grows and seeds well in her garden, and, grown in close proximity to different species of hellebore, would likely produce unusual offspring. Incidentally, the name foetidus indicates an unpleasant odour, but this is unfair to this hellebore – it smells fine to me, and can only be smelled at all if you stick your nose right into it anyway. Besides, it is supremely beautiful in a quiet sort of way; although sometimes reputed to be short-lived, as noted, it will seed itself around and will always be with you. I took mine out to be replaced with a small evergreen foundation planting but will be looking for a spot to add in once again to the garden some day.

In order to minimize the confusion surrounding the various types of hellebore (and the offspring from their debaucherous ways) I’ve taken excerpts from three different books that dwell on the subject. The first, taken from Helen Dillon On Gardening is written by a Dublin newspaper gardening writer; Ms Dillon writes with considerable humour, and more authority, on the subject of gardening – a fellow member who heard her speak at a local venue tells me that she is a wonderful speaker.

The second excerpt comes a book that I recently acquired, The Damp Garden, by Beth Chatto who has long been a noted nurserywoman and writer in Britain, a good friend of the late Christopher Lloyd, who has also hybridized some very popular garden plants. She gardens in ‘difficult’, dry East Anglia and also has a companion book The Dry Garden. Her advice is always well worth heeding.

The third comes from a book that is my own personal ‘bible’ when it comes to perennials, Perennial Garden Plants or The Modern Florilegium, by Graham Stuart Thomas. Mr Thomas was an institution in British gardening circles until his recent passing. I first became familiar with him due to his particular expertise with old garden roses but his expertise extends to all aspects of gardening, design and garden history.

Following that is Chapter 8 of Thomas’s book, which is an explanation of the keys and abbreviations used in the plant descriptions throughout the book that make it such a valuable reference when you are trudging from one nursery to the next in search of a plant that is appropriate for the task at hand; all information is there on the page that you are thumbing and he has a writing style, that of an old style British gentleman, delivering precise botanical knowledge that can go a long way to making choices easier.

Hellebore_flowers.jpg – Hellebore species and hybrids: Helleborus viridis (top left); H. foetidus (top right) with cross-section; flowers of various specimens of H. × hybridus, including doubles – wiki user SiGarb –

Jim Thorleifson

Lenteroos_rood_plant.jpg – H. × hybridus in a garden – wiki user Rasbak

Helen Dillon On Gardening

Helen Dillon

Town House and Country House, Dublin, 1998

first published by The Sunday Tribune, Dublin

paperback, 279 pp

Magical Plants that Keep Coming Up Roses

Hellebores are perhaps the most magical plants I grow. I adore them all. Heaven would be a large field of rich, retentive soil, on a north-facing slope, in which to grow their numerous seedlings on to flowering size. But here they must be culled before they smother the parent plants, an almost unbearable operation.

The so-called Lenten roses, Helleborus orientalis hybrids, have glossy, evergreen, divided leaves, forming a mound about 18 inches high. Their flowers come in meltingly beautiful colours, ranging from pure white, to the sort of green you see on the walls of 1930s bathrooms, to primrose and lemon, rosy pink, burgundy, claret, numerous variations on the theme of murky purple, and almost blue-black. The darkest have a plum-like bloom.

Their nodding, cup-shaped flowers are remarkably large, some inches in diameter, compared to the usually meek little plants of winter and spring. A further dimension is added when you lift up each flower. They are often exquisitely spotted within, each one unique, sometimes as if with a fine pen dipped in ruby ink, sometimes densely speckled in maroon all over.

From the moment their buds first show colour, often before midwinter, they gradually increase in beauty. Even after the flowers are fertilised, as spring turns into summer, their flowers dim to beautiful understated hues, old rose and mauvey greens, reminding me of faded dowagers.

The Corsican hellebore, H argutifolius, forms extremely handsome mounds of foliage. Semi-woody stems bear handsome trifoliate leaves, edged with prickly teeth, veined in paler green and like cool leather to touch. Great trusses of flower atop three-foot stems are composed of cup-shaped lime-green flowers, luminous from a distance. A native of Corsica and Sardinia, it is best situated in plenty of sun in rich, well drained soil.

Helleborus foetidus is a somewhat shorter plant; it is often treated as a Cinderella among hellebores, as it is willing to thrive in poorer parts of the garden, gracefully furnishing dryest shade. The panicles of flower are set off by palest green bracts, the same colour as the tulip-shaped flowers, which are delicately edged with maroon, in striking contrast to the intense dark green, deeply divided leaves. It is known as the stinking hellebore, but all I can detect is a faint sour smell when the leaves are crushed.

The ultimate hellebore for the picky collector has to be H. lividus a refined, much smaller and very lovely Majorcan relation of the Corsican hellebore. Grey-green trifoliate leaves are marbled in silvery green, the underside is smoky-mauve and the central veins are flushed maroon. The apple-green flowers and stems are heavily suffused purple pink.

My plant is from wild collected seed; it is kept in a clay pot in gritty mixture, well away from trouble, for if H argutifolius is anywhere near they will cross-pollinate, and I want to keep the seed pure. The result of a cross between these two hellebores, H x sternii, displays features from both parents in varying proportions. The more pink flush to the flowers, inherited from H lividus, the more tender the plant is likely to be. ‘Boughton Beauty’ is an excellent cultivar, producing a large crop of seedlings, which warrant careful selection.

Hellebores are among the greediest plants we grow. When planting I work in at least two buckets of fresh topsoil mixed with well-rotted manure, garden compost, leaf mould and bone meal. I used to divide them in early spring. But now I’ve learnt (from Elizabeth Strangman and Graham Rice’s excellent book The Gardener’s Guide to Growing Hellebores) that the H orientalis hybrids make a lot of root growth in autumn and winter, so early autumn is the optimum moment. Division involves a bucket of water to wash the roots so that you can see what you’re doing, and a sharp kitchen knife. Small pieces establish faster than larger sections.

The Damp Garden

Beth Chatto

Sagapress, New York, 1996

first published 1982

hardcover, 348 pp

HELLEBORUS, Ranunculaceae. These plants will grow in almost any soil and situation but do best in a retentive yet well-drained soil, in part shade or sun. They do not object to lime. Shading the roots with a mulch or dressing of manure helps to preserve moisture, and feed them; they are greedy feeders. Their large evergreen leaves are both ornamental and make good groundcover.

Watch your plants for aphis attack in early summer when the leaves are tender and juicy; it is wise to cut off the leaves of the Christmas Rose and Lenten Roses in late winter to lessen damage by leaf spot, which shows black or brown blotches on the leaves. This can be a nuisance in warm damp weather and if left spreads to the flowering shoots and destroys them. An insecticide copes with the aphis. A fungicide, such as Captan, protects the newly emerging flower stems and young leaves.

There is a very useful booklet called Gardener’s Guide to Hellebores by Brian Mathew, which will tell you a great deal more about this fascinating genus. The following are familiar to me:

corsicus [argutifolius ed.], from Corsica, Sardinia and the Balearic Islands. It is quite hardy, but the flowers can be damaged by severe wind and frost. It makes many stout stems, usually a dozen or more, although I have stopped counting at fifty on old, well-nourished plants. They form compact, shrub-like mounds all summer of handsome grey-green leaves, markedly veined. Some people deplore their winter habit, which is to drop their stems so they radiate like the spokes of a wheel, making way for new shoots in the centre. I find that the great flower heads, made up of many pale green cups, turn upwards in spring and practically fill this gap. Staking them produces a stiff and unnatural look. They will grow in full sun provided they are not starved, or in moderate but not deep shade. They stand approximately 2-2 ½ ft/600-760 mm.

foetidus is found wild in Britain, and in Europe from Spain to Italy. It prefers damp woods and coppices on limestone or chalk. In the garden it grows perfectly well without chalk, in sun or shade, where not too dry. It is quite different from H. corsicus, although it has a similar dramatic colour scheme: drooping clusters of palest green bells stand above delicate mounds of holly-green leaves, fan-shaped and finely divided. It has a strange pungent winter smell. (18 in.-2 ft/460-600 mm.) The flowers of both H. corsicus and H. foetidus start to open early in January if the weather is not too severe, and remain in flower for four to five months.

lividus, from Majorca, is similar to H. corsicus but is tender, and only suitable for really sheltered gardens in southern counties. It makes a smaller plant. The beautiful leaves are dark glossy green with conspicuous cream veins, giving a marbled effect. The backs of the young leaves and the leaf stems are plum coloured. In March-April large clusters of pale green cupped flowers heavily flushed with rosy-purple almost smother the plant. I have a plant in a little courtyard facing south, sheltered from the north and east. As I write it has fifteen flowering stems, standing about 18 in./460 mm high.

I have hybrids from these two where the vigour and hardiness of H. corsicus are combined with the light plum tints of H. lividus. They vary in intensity of colouring, but none are pure green, and some have particularly good foliage in spring. This is the cross known as H. x sternii.

niger. The Christmas Rose. Found wild in woods and coppices on limestone in southern Europe, from Germany to Yugoslavia and Italy. My plants rarely seem to flower before the end of January. They like a fairly heavy, preferably alkaline, well-drained soil with ample humus, and then to be left undisturbed apart from a mulch and the occasional gift of farmyard manure. Seedlings seem to vary slightly. There are named clones which include ‘Potter’s Wheel’, supposed to be the largest. All are beautiful with large flat-faced flowers held stiffly on short pink stems; some turn to quite deep shades of salmon-pink as they age. (Up to 12 in./300 mm.)


This group contains the most sumptuously beautiful of late-winter/early-spring flowers. Grown from seed few can be discarded, with colours which will include greenish-white, bronze-white, pale pink washed with green, soft reddish-plum, or deep smoky purple. In shape and size they will vary too – there will be round prim cups, dark purple outside, cool green inside; others will droop like round ripe plums; and some will hold open their large petals to show pale cream stamens in startling contrast.

These are the plants known familiarly as ‘Lenten Roses’. They are all easier to grow, and generally flower more prolifically, than the Christmas Rose. They like cool conditions, so under north walls, or semi-shade from trees and shrubs, in good retentive soil, will suit them well. Their flower buds appear at the end of January if the weather is favourable, and the display of fine blooms lasts into April.

The blood of several different species has contributed to these very mixed hybrids. They include:

– abchasicus is from the Caucasus along the Black Sea coast. It has drooping flowers of deep red-purple, the intense colour often tinting the nectaries and leaves at the top of the stems. (12 in./300 mm.)

orientalis (H. cyclophyllus), creamy-green; from west to north-east Turkey, the Black Sea area, preferring damp shade at low levels, but higher it can be found in open alpine meadows.

– guttatus, is from Russian Georgia. It means spotted or freckled, and among the hybrids there are both white and deep pink flowers heavily spotted inside with dark red, while some of the plum shades are peppered with very fine dark dust-like markings. (12-15 in./300-380 mm.)

purpurascens, from eastern Europe, has shorter stems with smaller, very neatly cupped flowers, in shades of muddy-purple, sometimes very dark purple, with pale green inside. (12 in./300 mm.) H. torquatus (of gardens) belongs here, it is a hybrid. Among the best is one of Eric Smith’s hybrids, ‘Pluto’ .

viridis. Growing wild in central and southern Europe, in coppices on limestone, this is a quiet plant with deciduous leaves. The saucer-shaped flowers have a distinctly bluish-green tone. (12 in./300 mm.)

– occidentalis. This seems to be the north European version of H. viridis, growing in similar situations, including Britain. Even among our native plants there is some variation. The flowers are smaller, but more cupped, and plain green without the bluish tinge.

Perennial Garden Plants or The Modern Florilegium

Graham Stuart Thomas

Sagapress/Timber Press, Portland Oregon 3rd edition, 1990

first printed 1976

hardcover, 463 pp

HELLEBORUS, Ranunculaceae. The Christmas Roses and the Lenten Roses provide us with certainly the most sumptuous hardy flowers of winter and early spring, and are also the possessors of large, handsome, ground-covering, handlike leaves. They are easy to grow in any ordinary, reasonably well-drained, fertile garden soil, preferably retentive. They are splendid plants for growing under deciduous trees and shrubs or in the shade of north walls, but will also thrive in sun. All the flowers have a thick sculptured quality and rounded gracious outline, unsurpassed in the floral world. There are many named varieties and these and all other hellebores are worth acquiring if offered!

They are of two types: most are genuine herbaceous plants, but a few others – H. corsicus, H. lividus, H. foetidus, and their hybrids-produce a leafy stem one year which bears flowers at its apex the next, and then dies to make room for succeeding shoots. Evergreen.

The hellebores are tricky subjects for cutting for indoors. Little stalks of H. foetidus and H. corsicus flowers are easy and long-lasting. H. niger and H. atrorubens are reasonably satisfactory. Many of the others and all the H. orientalis types are temperamental but are most lasting when well open and mature. They resent centrally heated rooms and are best put into the larder at night. The stems should be slit on one side for several inches. [Gertrude Jekyll further suggests submerging the stalks up to their necks in cold water for a minimum of two hours, preferably overnight, keeping them in a cool room, and they will last well. ed.]

atrorubens * of gardens

30 x 46 cm      [5-9]    Purplish           Winter             P D

1 ft x 18 in

1853. In effect a dark coloured plant similar to some of the H. orientalis hybrids, of which it is a parent, but it is deciduous and the flowers, of rich plum-purple, are usually produced with H. niger in January. No more care is needed than with the Lenten Roses. It does not appear to set seeds in cultivation. The above description applies to the well-known garden clone. The true species, from Yugoslavia, has smaller, darker flowers and is rare in cultivation. It is evergreen.

corsicus. O *

60 x 90 cm      [7-9]    Green  Winter/Spring  PF S

2 x 3ft

Corsica, Sardinia, Balearic Islands. H. argutifolius, H. lividus eorsieus. A bushy plant with stout stems having only leaves in their first year. The leaves are among the most beautiful of all, tripartite, with prickly edges, greyish-green and veined. They make a handsome clump, and the stems in their second year produce an upstanding cluster of palest green pendant cups with pale green nectaries and stamens; the whole plant is a symphony of beauty in the early year. Quite hardy, but should be protected from icy winds. Evergreen. Lovely with Iris reticulata.

” … almost shrub-like, with highly ornamental pale emerald bells.” –ATJ


46 x 60 cm      [6-9J    Yellow/green   Winter F DS

18 in x 2 ft

S.E. Europe. A valuable plant which in my garden produces its vivid, light greenish yellow flowers soon after Christmas, with those of H. atrorubens and ‘Bowles’s Yellow’. On a warm day a distinct scent can be detected, of elder flower or black-currant leaves. As good a grower as any H. orientalis type into whose later season the flowering extends.

foetidus *

46 x 46 cm      [6-9]    Green  Winter/Spring  PF S

18 x 18 in

S. Europe, Britain. This strange poisonous native plant has very handsome, deeply divided, black-green leaves making a clump in the same way as H. corsicus. In winter or earliest spring the flowers are borne in airy clusters at the end of the stems, each one a perfect bell of pale green, edged with maroon. Evergreen. An invaluable plant for sun or shade and a marvellous foil for silver foliage plants, also for Erica carnea and Lathyrus vernus. The Italian form as grown by Mr Bowles is usually judged to be finer than our native type. ‘Wester Fliske’ is a selection with reddish stems and pedicels. Scottish origin.

“It has the darkest green leaves of any low growing plant … their interlacing mass is a wonderfully telling object, especially among such plants as Megasea and Funkias whose large, entire leaves make a striking contrast.”-EAB


46 x 30 cm      [8-9]    Green  E. Spring         P W S

18 in x 1 ft

Majorca. 1710. This is only for our warmest counties, and is established at Overbecks, S. Devon. Most beautiful tripartite evergreen leaves, overlaced with grey, recalling the markings on those of Cyclamen hederifolium. The flowers appear, like those of H. corsicus, at the ends of the leafy stems in the second year; they are pinkish green and delicately scented, which is most noticeable when growing under cover.

niger O *

30 x 46 cm      [4-8]    White  Winter P DS

1 ft x 18 in

Europe, W. Asia. Cultivated since Roman days, the dark green broad leathery leaves of this well-known plant are less noticeable than those of the H. orientalis group, but form an equally beautiful setting for the sumptuous nodding white blooms, often faintly tinged with pink on the outside, and having a crown of golden stamens. They stand up well above the leaves. It is not always easy to establish; it usually grows best in a “tacky” soil that does not dry out, in shade. It appreciates old manure and leaf-mould in spring. Evergreen.


Special seedlings have been named from time to time. Mrs Lawrenson of Kildare raised ‘St Brigid’, which may still be growing in Ireland. Ernest Ladhams produced ‘Ladhams’ Variety’ during the ‘thirties. The most recent is Miss Davenport-Jones’s ‘Potter’s Wheel’ (1958). They all were selected for their sumptuous large white flowers. Unless propagated from division they are not entitled to their clonal names, though from seed forms nearly as good may continue to appear. ‘Louis Cobbett’, raised by its namesake at Cambridge prior to 1962, is a superb new clone; deep rose-pink outside, with brown flush around the calyx and stalk, and clear blush inside with a star-like green flush around the nectaries-a nonpareil if ever there was one.

macranthus. H. altifolius. [4-8]. In this botanical variant the leaves are somewhat narrower, and the segments of the flower also narrower. On the other hand, several flowers of large size, often pink-tinted outside, or flushed with pink all over, are borne on each stem. The leaves are borne above the flowers.

H. altifolius, though sometimes considered a variety of H. niger, is a distinct kind … much larger … each stem bearing two to seven flowers which have a stronger tendency to assume a rosy hue than the ordinary kind.”-WR

O nigericors [6-9]. Hybrids between the Christmas Rose and the Corsican Hellebore. The cross has been made on several occasions and a few plants are being distributed among keen gardeners, but it is not likely to reach catalogues very freely for some years as it is slow from division. It is usually midway between the parents in all particulars, bearing wide-open flowers in large clusters at the ends of the stout short stems, well set with good dark foliage. The colour is greenish white in marked contrast. First raised by J. E. H. Stooke, c.1938. The cross has been made subsequently several times and some of the results are better, even excellent, garden plants, but vary in the tint of the flower and the type of foliage, and should be chosen while growing; ‘Beatrix’ was named and raised by E. B. Anderson. Other raisers have been Miss Strangman and Eric Smith; the latter, using H. x sternii [6-9], has developed a strain labelled Nigriistem. Miss Strangman’s clone is called ‘Alabaster’ .

O nigriliv Hybrids have also been raised between H. niger and H. lividus. The results I have seen are very beautiful with wide, pale green flowers suffused with clear rosy mauve. Those nearest to H. lividus have marbled leaves but will probably prove to be tender.

orientalis O *

46 x 60 cm      [4-9]    White  Winter F DS

18 in x 2 ft Spring

Bithynian Olympus, Asia Minor. 1839. It is very difficult to know what to list under this name, as the botanists do not all agree. As, however, it is a name which is well known, and in gardens covers a mixed lot of hybrids, I think it best to persist in this grouping. The plants vary in colour from blush-white to plum colour, often – in fact, usually – with wide-open nodding flowers, more or less beautifully spotted inside with crimson and maroon, and with subtle green flushes both inside and out. The flowers are very hardy outdoors, but not patient of warm rooms. The splendid evergreen foliage makes a sort of prostrate platform for the sheaf of flowering stems; the plants grow happily in almost any soil except bog, and are best in partial or full shade. They form the ideal groundcover for deciduous shrubs. In flower from December to April; always a great sight at Knightshayes Court, Devon, and at Sissinghurst Castle, Kent. Beautiful with Snowdrops.

“easy to grow, long-lived, weed destroying, and they scorn cultural help.” –A TJ

Many authorities separate certain forms:

abschasicus H. colchicus. Purplish-ruby colour, more or less densely covered with minute maroon dots inside; nearly evergreen.

antiquorum Creamy, rose-tinted, green at base, nearly evergreen.

atrorubens See above. Deciduous.

guttatus Flowers white or greenish-pink, usually heavily spotted with maroon inside. Strains or plants inheriting the conspicuous spotting are sometimes labelled ‘Prince Rupert’, but this name strictly applies to one clone only.

kochii of gardens. By some botanists this is considered the true H. orientalis and is a very rare plant. It blooms regularly when the Christmas Rose and H. atrorubens bloom, and is thus a month or so earlier, usually, than the H. orientalis hybrid strains. Slightly shorter in growth, but with very large coarsely toothed leaves, the nodding flowers are yellow-green in bud, opening wide to a delicate primrose-yellow, in which colouring it is unique in this genus. Just as easy to grow as H. orientalis strain. I have had my plant for over fifty years and call it ‘Bowles’ Yellow’ after the donor.

olympicus This breeds reasonably true from seed. Large white flowers open from pale green buds. Good at Hidcote, Gloucestershire.

It is easily understood how over many years fine forms have cropped up and have received names, and old lists used to contain numerous clones, including the very dark ‘Ballard’s Black’, raised at Colwall, Hereford. However, I am told on the best authority that the original ‘Ballard’s Black’ died, and all plants found under this name are merely seedlings and not entitled to the name. Mrs Helen Ballard of Mathon, Worcestershire, has raised an astonishing array of hybrids, using H. cyclophyllus to achieve true lemon-yellow and H. purpurascens or H. serbicus to develop the darkest, almost navy-blue tints. One of the first raisers was Archer Hind of Coombe Fishacre, Devon. Seedlings crop up in great quantity in gardens on retentive soil and practically all of them are good, many of superlative quality, so that it seems almost unnecessary to go to the slow process of division. It is an operation not appreciated by hellebores, because they take at least two years to settle down again. It is best done immediately after flowering, separating individual crowns, each with roots of its own, with a knife, after washing all soil off the lifted clump.


30 x 30 cm      [5-8]    Purplish           Spring  DS

1 x 1 ft

E. Europe, Ukraine, etc. 1817. The leaves are very deeply cut, narrowly fingered. The small flowers are nodding, elegiac, glaucous maroon outside and a surprising light green inside. This choice and unusual plant intrigues the uninitiated; it is neat and well chiselled. The best forms of these two plants are worth seeking. Eric Smith has raised a good new hybrid ‘Pluto’. The plant known as H. torquatus [5-8] in gardens is related to H. purpurascens and may be a hybrid of this species. Its flowers are of the same dark tint outside but the insides may be similarly dark instead of green. Later findings attribute H. torquatus to a large area in central and southern Yugoslavia. It is sometimes classed as H. serbicus or H. multifidus subsp. serbicus.

x sternii

46 x 46 cm      [6-9]    Green  Winter/Spring  PF DS

18 x 18 in

H. x baueri. H. corsicus x H. lividus. These hybrids have the shrubby growth of the parents and leaves and flowers intermediate between them. The greater hardiness and vigour of H. corsicus have been linked with the strange rosy green of H. lividus. Ordinary soil, sunny; shelter from icy winds. The strain varies somewhat when raised from seed and is apt to revert to H. corsicus.


46 x 60 cm [7-9 J Green E. Spring F W S

18 in x 2 ft

Asia Minor. A rarity with coarsely toothed, deciduous leaves of considerable size; small green flowers with brownish edges, followed by remarkable bladder like seed-capsules. For sheltered corners in warm gardens.


30 x 46 cm [6-8J Green Winter/ F DS

1 ft x 18 in Spring

Europe, Britain. Of the H. orientalis group, slightly smaller. The flowers are of pure and brilliant green. Deciduous leaves, H. v. occidentalis is a native of Britain and is smaller-flowered and larger-leafed, but no less attractive. The flowers of both kinds last pure and green until well into summer. Other green-flowered species worth growing when obtainable are H. multifidus [5-9], whose leaves are truly multifid, cut into many very long narrow lobes, and H. dumetorum [5-8], which is not fragrant and, confusingly, has a subspecies H.d. atrorubens, with flowers less good than our H. atrorubens (of gardens). Its leaves stand erect.

Chapter 8

A Guide to the Alphabetical Lists

Plants, whether trees, shrubs or herbaceous plants, British or foreign, have been classified according to certain floral characteristics and are broadly grouped into Families. Since this book is so much concerned with plant description I thought it might be helpful to include the Family after the generic name. It will reveal some surprising as well as some obvious affinities.


The different printer’s type faces used in the names of plants in the Alphabetical Lists indicate as follows:

CAPITALS, bold face, for the genus or generic name.

small letters, bold face, for the species or specific name, or recognized botanical variety, form or strain.

‘Single quotes’, bold face, for a fancy name given to a cultivar or garden form or variety.

(While single quotes are retained for fancy names in the text, generic and specific names and botanical varieties, etc. are set in italic face.)

* Indicates those plants which I consider really good garden plants, judged from the general standpoint of habit, foliage and flower .

O Indicates plants with exceptional or unusual beauty of flower.

x Denotes a recognized hybrid between two genera, if placed before the generic name, and between two species if placed before the specific epithet (or second name).

SPORT (“mutation” in genetic parlance)

A shoot which is different in growth from the parent plant; these shoots usually remain constant when vegetatively propagated and are then termed a “garden variety”, “form” or “cultivar”.

CULTIVAR (contraction of “cultivated variety”)

The vegetatively reproduced progeny of a hybrid, garden form or sport, variety, or of a strain of natural or hybrid origin which when raised from seed breeds reasonably true to type. “Clone” is also used and refers specially to vegetatively reproduced garden forms.

These two terms tend to supplant the old use of “variety” or “form”, but not wishing to be too technical I have often contented myself with the older terms.

The Line of Facts

This is designed to enable the reader to pick out quickly plants of certain size, colour, period of usefulness, without having to read through the detailed descriptions.


I am not going to apologize for the use throughout the book of Latin names. They are essential to avoid confusion and are internationally understood. We have no difficulty over Dahlia, Chrysanthemum or Delphinium; Hosta has rapidly become second nature to gardeners, and other names like Gypsophila and Physalis are soon accepted by the uninitiated. All of these names have a meaning and significance, recorded in the Royal Horticultural Society’s Dictionary of Gardening. For further insight we can refer to Dr W. T. Stearn’s A Gardener’s Dictionary of Plant Names.

It has been difficult in many instances to know what botanical name to use. As more species and more variants of species become known from the wild, more and more research goes on so that nomenclature is permanently in a state of flux and there is no single book that is up to date. The Dictionary of Gardening has been a useful basis, but I have had recourse to numerous specialized or more recent publications to get as near to correct nomenclature as possible. Even so, I have retained some names simply because they are so well known, and have contented myself with adding the modern synonyms. The trouble is that next week another assiduous and expert botanist, in the light of further evidence, may decide that the new name is wrong and go back to the old! This has happened with several plants. Botany is not an exact science.

The true, old vernacular names are interesting and acceptable, but many of the freshly coined popular names such as “Fairy Bells” and “Fleeceflower” have no real grounding, and merely pander to those who think that Latin names are a nuisance.


As an extra bonus to the species I have given when possible the date of their introduction from abroad into cultivation, which usually means England or Europe. There are many gaps which I should like to fill, but it is a start. These dates are a study on their own, visualized in Chapter 2, and are approximate.

Whenever possible the date of introduction of cultivars has also been given; in all cases the dates cited must be taken with leniency; records differ, and with a number of plants I have only been able to arrive at an approximate date. Corrections and additions will be welcomed.

I have added too the country of origin because this is linked to the date of introduction and the march of events and discoveries through history; in addition it has some bearing upon cultivation, if the world’s rainfall and temperature be taken into account, together with the sort of altitude that would be required in a hot country to produce a plant hardy enough for our gardens.


The first figure indicates the approximate height of the plant when in flower, the second indicates the distance apart for planting, envisaging its spread in a few years. Today’s approved measurements are given in metres and centimetres.


The figures in square brackets [] denote the hardiness zones for each species. The zones are based on the average annual minimum temperature for each zone. All plants are designated with a number spread, the lower number indicating the most northerly area where they will reliably survive the winter, and the higher number the most southerly area where they will perform consistently. Many factors, such as altitude, degree of exposure to wind, proximity to bodies of water, snow cover, soil types and the like can create variations of as much as two zones in winter hardiness, while cool nights, shade and amount of water received can extend the southern limits. For map, see pp. 42-3.


Just one word of colour for quick reference, pending examination of the more detailed description.


A plant’s season of flowering varies greatly through the country. A given plant might produce blooms in Devon in early June, in Surrey ten days later, high up in the Cotswolds another week later; another week would be required for Derbyshire and another for Northumberland, finishing up in August in Aberdeenshire. And so I felt it useless to try to give the months of flowering in Surrey, and have contented myself with a broad indication of its period of flowering. Most plants are responsive to warmth and season in the same way and so a rough guide is thereby obtained.

Nurserymen’s catalogues were written mostly according to experience in the field, where young plants are put out in spring for sale in the autumn. The majority of these will flower later and for much longer than an established clump in a garden. In fact, if one has the time and the energy, one should treat certain plants likewise; very long-flowering seasons can thus be obtained from perennials like Erigeron, Gaillardia, Scabiosa caucasica, Anthemis tinctoria and Buphthallmum salicifolium by planting young divisions each year. The plants so treated will tend to be shorter. Freshly planted pinks, grown from cuttings, will tend to produce successive crops of flower.

W – denotes plants not reliably hardy in Surrey, which have been included because they are good perennials in the south and west, though they may need Warm corners.


P – denotes that the flowers, when Picked for the house, will last for a while in water.

F – denotes that the ripening Fruits or seed-heads have some beauty and use for cutting, even though the flowers do not last in water. The descriptions call attention to the quality and size of the foliage; as a general rule this can also be cut.

Further notes for Flower Arrangers are in Cuttings from My Notebook, Nos. 5 and 17.


Many of us want to increase our stock for fresh plantings or to offer in exchange for other choice plants, and the normal methods of propagation are shown by the following letters.

C – CUTTINGS. I have only called attention to this method where cuttings can be taken of portions of stems during the growing season; it must be understood that practically all herbaceous plants, other than Monocotyledons, Ferns and Grasses, can be increased by means of short basal cuttings, preferably taken with a heel, and rooted in a frame of sandy soil in spring. Stem cuttings can be treated likewise.

D – DIVISION (AND PLANTING). Many plants when lifted pull apart quite easily, the best growth being made by the outer shoots with young roots. Some very thick, heavy clumps, such as Hemerocallis and Hosta, can be chopped up with a spade, or portions removed by cutting out sections as one might dissect a round cake. Peonies and woody-rooted plants need lifting bodily and separating with the help of a knife. Two forks levering back to back will force apart plants with matted roots. Unless otherwise stated in the descriptions, divisions can be made in autumn or spring, or during the winter with very hardy, easy plants; this also applies to planting generally. Greyleafed plants and grasses are most successful when planted in late spring.

G – GRAFTING. Though gypsophilas can be rooted from cuttings the larger kinds are usually grafted onto pieces of root of G. paniculata in a greenhouse in spring.


R – ROOT CUTTINGS. Many plants with fleshy thongs or woody roots can be propagated by cutting the roots into 25-75-mm (1-3-in) lengths and inserting flat or upright in sandy soil, barely covered. Some of the thickest of roots will sprout if put into nursery beds; the thinner ones require the aid of a frame or greenhouse. Late winter is best.

S – SEEDS. Any genuine species can be propagated from seeds, perhaps showing some variation–or even a chance new hybrid-but the cultivars and forms, in the event of their setting good seeds, will be likely to show much more variation and should only be increased vegetatively. Hellebores, gentians and primulas should be sown when ripe; they may not germinate until the spring or even a year later. Most will germinate well if sown in prepared soil in early spring in cool greenhouse or frame; the more ordinary and hardy, big-seeded plants can be raised like peas and carrots in the open ground by sowing in March, or as soon as ripe in late summer. To get good germination of Baptisia and Lupinus it is usually necessary to chip the seed-coats-a laborious job.

The Descriptions

I have tried hard to avoid clichés, principally those which are careless and give a wrong impression. To say, for instance, of Campanula rapunculoides (a notorious but very decorative weed) that “its roots must be watched” is a masterpiece of understatement. I have been frank about plants which are invasive. I have also tried to avoid silly colour descriptions like the ubiquitous “golden yellow”; the word “gold” cannot enhance the brilliance of strong yellow. On the other hand I find terms like salmon, emerald, citron and wine helpful-and I hope you will too. Terms of the paint-box and spectrum are more generally useful than those of scientific colour charts, which we do not all possess. Colour is a difficult subject, no two people seeing it alike, and it can also vary a lot with the time of day, the soil, climate and season; also with altitude and latitude, some colours being much richer as one goes north.

In the descriptions, either generally following the introduction to the genus, or more particularly following the discussion on each species, there are notes about culture, staking and like matters. These are amplified in Chapter 7.

The Quotations

Since several of these appeared in the original Modern Florilegium – along with the line of facts for quick reference – I thought it would be pleasant to continue with them. I have therefore added many more and have included some other authors. Here are some details about them.

GHGerard’s Herball, 1597. This happened to be on my shelf with other books and I have included some quotations from his book which show how, at that time, people were more interested in what they thought plants meant and did and were; there are some amusements as well.

WR – William Robinson, The English Flower Garden. First published 1883; Fifteenth Edition, reprinted 1934. Robinson, through his voluminous writings in his periodicals The Garden and the Flora and Sylva, and also his articles and books, was one of the first of the new people at the end of the nineteenth century who laid before us the infinite variety of plants and their uses in the garden landscape. He was dead against “in-and-out gardening” (annual bedding), loved trees and the wilder, picturesque landscape and admired grand herbaceous plants with fine foliage. He wrote from Sussex.

CWE – Mrs Earle, author of Pot-pourri from a Surrey Garden, 1897. She was an observant lady and as many quotations as I have used for plants could have been found as corroboration to a book on cooking or on other pursuits. She is ever practical and enlightened.

GJ – Gertrude Jekyll. The quotations are almost entirely from Colour Schemes for the Flower Garden, 1910. Her books reflect truthfully and simply her gardening. Though she was deeply interested in the Surrey countryside, crafts, and the varied beauties of plants, it was the effect they gave that was her main occupation. To the end of her life she was painting border after border, garden after garden, with the well-tried favourites with which she conjured up such satisfying schemes.

RF – In The English Rock Garden, 1918, Reginald Farrer produced some of his most graphic and flowery prose. Magenta was anathema to him but his admiration was reserved for the new and ravishing rather than the impressive (William Robinson) and was scarcely concerned with effect (Gertrude Jekyll). He had white-hot likes and dislikes, but his outpourings of words drew many into the arms of horticulture. He was of course mainly concerned with the gems of alpine regions, which he cultivated in Yorkshire.

EAB – Edward Augustus Bowles, the writer of that charming trilogy My Garden in Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, 1914, was a collector and appreciator of plants as well as a gardener fond of looking into the scientific side of things. In his traditional garden in Middlesex there seemed to be a corner for everything, which he described simply but entertainingly.

ATJ – Arthur Tysilio Johnson and his wife Nora together gardened in North Wales; he concerned himself with writing about them in characteristic prose, packed with words and well-turned phrases, revealing his close association with plants. Together they produced a garden in the modern trend, of woodland without a straight line, with natural-looking groupings of plants.

Since this is meant to be a personal book, reflecting my approach to gardening and choice of plants, you may well ask why I have chosen to include all these quotations. There are several reasons. Like Pooh Bah, I felt a little corroborative detail would add verisimilitude and let you know I am not alone in some of my enthusiasms, and indeed often these writers have provided a turn of phrase which I could not hope to equal. For this reason they add leavening to an interminable catalogue of plants. They help likewise to break up the page. And lastly, well, it follows The Modern Florilegium and I believe that the success of that little publication was due as much to its literary entertainment as to its cultural facts.

So come with me and let me show you these lovely plants, page by page, with as fair descriptions as I can manage, amplified here and there with a word of appreciation from some great gardeners who first showed the way. We will deal first with the general run of flowering plants, and pass on to grasses and ferns, and finally to Cuttings from My Notebook.

“True ornamental gardening consists … in making selections from all [types of plants] and grouping them together so as to have, when the details are complete, a finished and charming effect.”

James Anderson: The New Practical Gardener, 1873